It’s funny how life seems to keep happening, no matter how much you wish it would just take a break for a minute. No sooner have you figured something out, but it changes. Or you change. Or the world changes around you. Sometimes you don’t even notice the difference until long after it has settled in, and when you look around you suddenly realize that things are not the same anymore, and you’re not the person you used to be. For instance, I used to be young and cool. And that is the truth, except for the part about being cool.
I suppose I started noticing how old I was getting a few years ago, when I began rooting for the parents in movie I used to watch as a kid. Old fuddy-duddy buzzkills had somehow morphed into the voices of reason, and I sat there wondering how on Earth any of those poor adults could deal with those misbehaving kids, who never listened, always seemed to be in danger, and could not stop from getting themselves into one adventure after another. Why won’t anyone think of the parents!? And yet, as a kid, the experience of watching these movies and the sense of empowerment they gave (take that, stuffy adults!) was so real and absolute. When and how did I cross over to the other side?
Of course, try as I may to behave differently, I know that I am not ten anymore. That epiphany has come and gone. But even worse was the realization this past weekend that, not only am I not a kid, I am no longer a college student! I know you cannot believe this either, but it turns out that I am not twenty. I am, in fact, 75% more. This is horrifying.
On Sunday afternoon, before my dessert melted and Adele Dazeem belted, I was at school, watching my voice student perform his senior recital. It was awesome. Having never worked at a college before, this was my first senior recital that I had helped put together, and watching him up on stage, nervous, excited, confident, joyous, and energetic, brought back memories of my own college recitals. He even closed out his performance with a few songs that he had arranged for his a cappella group. He might as well have been me. I felt a great kinship with him, and part of me wanted to run onstage, arrangements in hand, and beg to join the group, or at least to sing something as part of the show. They wouldn’t mind, right? We were pretty much peers. I knew exactly where they were coming from, and even where they were going. I was one of them, and it felt great.
And then, after the warm-ups, sound checks, start, stops, bit, and bobs, I went to the back of the theater and took a seat alone, as the kids ran off to do whatever young people do before a recital. As I sat down, I saw my student’s parents come in, so proud and excited, making sure the video camera was set up to record, and thanking all sorts of people for coming out to support their son. And all at once, I was one of them. I could see, in the not too too distant future, myself, sitting in a theater, watching Ruby’s senior recital. I could feel the pride, and the tears, as our children boldly completed a part of their life journey, possibly one of the last we would be directly involved in, and venture out into whatever the world held for them. I thought of Edward, and wondered what path his life would take him in. And I thought of all the times that he and I have snuggled on the couch, and I felt deeply the knowledge that this time would not last forever. I looked onto the stage, where the students were making final preparations for the show, and suddenly they all looked so young. How could we be sending them out into the world? They think they have it figured out, but they know nothing! And then I just loved my children so hard that tears started running down my face like I was some sort of huge idiot that was trying to ruin somebody’s recital.
Have you ever simply loved someone so much that it made you cry just to think about it? Let me tell you, it is not fun, and you should not do it. But maybe I wasn’t just crying for my kids. Maybe I was crying for myself, and the realization that I was neither a college student, nor the parent of one. I was stuck in the middle of almost everyone in that room, life-wise, and it was existentially terrifying. Old, but not that old. Young, but not that bold. I sat there in the theater like a catchy One Republic song, wondering who I was.
Which is ridiculous, of course. I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Life has plenty of phases, many of which do not include “college student” and/or “empty nester.” The trick is to enjoy the phase that you are in, while fondly remembering and cleverly using your past to set up where you want to be in the future. I’m a college professor, not a college student. And that’s a good thing. I’m a parent of young children, not college students, and that’s a very good thing indeed. I don’t always enjoy it, and sometimes I freak out for up to seven minutes prior to watching senior recitals, but life is good, and I’d rather be trapped between two lives than stuck outside of them completely.